Everybody can probably remember what it was like to be a small child waiting for Christmas morning. Time moves much more slowly when you are young, and it slows down even more on Christmas Eve. Now, imagine what it would be like if you ran downstairs to the Christmas tree and unwrapped the brand new bicycle that you had wished for, only to find that it was completely disassembled. Your father, a man with no mechanical skills, promises to "get right to it", meaning that it should only take about three months for him to put it all together. To be fair, my father did lose both of his hands in a bizarre meatloaf related accident, and had to have hams sewn onto the ends of his arms to take their place. Of course, this also doesn't take into account the additional months of waiting, when your cautious mother ships the assembled bicycle off to the Underwriters Laboratory for safety testing, to ensure that her precious baby boy won't be killed on this mechanical death-trap.
Under these circumstances, you would probably start to have very mixed feelings about Christmas. A more deprived life in an orphanage might even start to seem like an appealing option. I don't know. I guess I was a fairly impatient kid. Maybe it all balances out in the end, when you get to put your parents in a nursing home (Who's going to be laughing then, Mom and Dad?).
Now, I'm not a child anymore (supposedly), and perhaps I have exaggerated the way in which my parents operate. Either way, I am older now, and I have hair growing out of my nose, and my expectations for immediate gratification have been somewhat subdued. I know that the world doesn't move as quickly as I would like, or else we would already have jet-packs (or Japanese robot butts). You have to learn to be patient, even if waiting can be extremely frustrating at times.
One of the most annoying aspects of speculating about NFL Draft (football Christmas) prospects is the endless waiting. It's particularly bad when you have a hunch that a late round draft pick might be pretty good, but nobody else really seems to care. It's even worse when your interests are drawn to some of the less glamorous positions like that of the NFL center. Try having a serious discussion about NFL centers with a friend, and watch how quickly people begin to fall asleep. Yet, for some reason, I find this subject endlessly fascinating. I am...how should I put this...a bit of a dork about such things. Unfortunately, once the draft is over, all I can really do is sit around and wait...and wait...and wait...just to see if the players I am interested in will ever get an opportunity to play. Sometimes it takes years for all of this to play out, and even then we sometimes don't get a real chance to judge a player's skills, simply because they may never be given an opportunity.
Normally, I have somewhat mixed feelings about Pro Football Focus, and their methods for grading players. Sometimes I ignore what they have to say....and sometimes they agree with me and I make sure to mention it here. Yes, I can be a bit of an inconsistent ass in that way. Either way, I do find what they are attempting to do quite interesting, even if I sometimes have some differences of opinion with them. This morning, however, they posted an article that had me howling in delight.
When they posted their grades for the top performers in the 2014 NFL preseason, a stupid smile began to spread across my face. According to their numbers, the top rated center in the preseason has been Eric Kush of the Chiefs, with a grade of +4.7 cheeseburgers. Okay, they don't really grade people on a 'cheeseburger scale', but the methods by which they evaluate people can sometimes be a bit mysterious, so I sometimes make up meanings for their numbers. Either way, Eric Kush scored more cheeseburgers than any other center, at least so far, in the 2014 preseason.
This is particularly funny because PFF has been busy trashing the rest of the Chiefs offensive line, so it doesn't appear as if Kush is likely to be benefiting from an abundance of surrounding talent. This is all very exciting to me, because Eric Kush was our favorite center prospect from the 2013 draft, although he wasn't selected until the 6th round. Seeing some signs that things might actually work out for this strange little prospect of ours is sending me into a bit of a tizzy, especially since he is somebody we selected in our ongoing battle versus Ozzie Newsome. I have to admit that I have the horrible feeling that even mentioning any of this will end up jinxing things for Kush.
Then, things got even weirder...
Among the other centers that PFF had ranked in their top 5, along with established names like Alex Mack and Nick Mangold, was another somewhat peculiar fellow. Tied for 3rd place on their list, with a score of +3.7 cheeseburgers, was Corey Linsley who the Packers drafted this year in the 5th round. While there were a handful of people that we considered to be interesting center prospects in the 2014 draft, we finally settled on Linsley as our favorite overall center candidate. All things considered, I think that projection is starting to look fairly good, considering that we probably spent a whopping 2-3 minutes actually watching him play, and based this hunch almost entirely on his physical measurables. Our deranged fascination with the short shuttle times of center prospects seems to again be paying some dividends, even if it is a remarkably simple-minded way of doing things. Yes, Reilly and I do factor in other results besides short shuttle times, when judging centers, but it still remains our favorite score for that position.
Obviously, none of this necessarily means that much. There's still plenty of time for these players to turn around and make our little projections look incredibly stupid. For the moment, however, I just want to savor the possibility that maybe...just maybe...we don't have our heads firmly lodged in our buttocks. In no way am I claiming that these two players are Canton bound, but for the moment, there do appear to be some promising signs of competence. Even if they were to merely become average/serviceable players, I think that would still be a rather positive outcome, considering how little was invested in them. My fingers are crossed.
Of course, there is a bit of a catch in all of this. Eric Kush is still listed as a backup, and I suspect there is a good chance he won't really see the field until 2015, when starting center Rodney Hudson's contract runs out. I may personally believe that Kush is a much better prospect than Hudson ever was, but that's where PETARD comes back into play. Hudson was a 2nd round draft pick. Short of a complete and undeniable failure on his part, the team is likely to give him the starting job, instead of Kush. Since the same questionable "trust your eyeballs, and not the numbers" type of evaluation goes into assessing NFL players, that also goes into choosing who to draft, it's entirely possible that the Chiefs will squander another year of Kush's career, having him sit on the bench. How annoyed am I with this situation? Extremely.
Linsley, on the other hand, appears poised to become a starter this year, even though I don't personally think he is as exciting a prospect as Kush probably is. Don't get me wrong. I do think Linsley could be quite good, but I just that think Kush could be really exceptional. I'm sure Linsley will struggle at times, and there will be ample opportunities to question his abilities, but that is sort of to be expected with all inexperienced offensive linemen. Still, I generally support the sink or swim approach, of tossing players into games early, and figuring that a few screw-ups will be more educational than they will be harmful. Hopefully it all works out for the Packers. Again, I'll have my fingers crossed for a positive outcome here.
Because I haven't said anything negative about the Ravens yet (a requirement), I figured I should tack this on at the end. In the past year, the Ravens have traded for two veteran centers (Shipley and Zuttah), while starting one of the league's most abysmally poor centers in Gino Gradkowski, in 2013 (who was selected in the 4th round in 2012). While I suspect Zuttah will inevitably turn out to be an improvement over the performance we saw from Gradkowski (with a fairly pleasing 4.54 second short shuttle time coming from Zuttah), you still have to wonder if all of this scrambling around to address the center position was really necessary or economically sound. Anytime you sign a veteran player, you are getting somebody who is both older and more costly than what you could have acquired in the draft. It's still too early to say whether Kush or Linsley will pan out, but if they do, and if the signs that pointed to success were relatively apparent to our Banana 6000 data thresher, then why weren't they apparent to the Ravens?
However this all plays out, I'll just be sitting here waiting. Like the slogan of Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems says,"The Future Begins Tomorrow", and the NFL has taught me just how true this statement is. I just find it a bit frustrating how often I see teams with well known areas of weakness spending their preseason games trotting out the same tired players on the field, while giving fewer opportunities to some of the lesser known guys who are buried on their rosters. The idea of shaking things up, and trying to reevaluate some of the lesser known talents in the league, seems to always take a back seat to simply making decisions based on where someone was drafted. So I keep waiting...and waiting...and waiting...